Smith shines, Murphy kicks game winner as Oak Mountain downs James Clemens in playoff win

Published 10:52 pm Thursday, November 4, 2021

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

MADISON – Missing the final three games of the regular season, Oak Mountain quarterback Evan Smith had a point to prove going into the playoffs on Friday night, and while he proved it, he shared the spotlight with kicker Garrett Murphy.

Smith finished the night with a dominant 300-plus all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, but with 32 seconds left, he was put in the situation of handling the ball differently—holding the most nerve-wracking kick of his four years in a 35-35 tie playoff game with No. 5 James Clemens.

This time, he, along with teammates making big plays, set up Murphy for the heroic moment with four seconds left.

The junior athlete for the Eagles took two steps, planted on his left leg and booted a 32-yard field goal squarely through the uprights to send Oak Mountain players, coaches and fans into a frenzy as time expired on a 38-35 playoff victory for the Eagles.

It capped off a truly special night for the team, which picked up playoff wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.

Entering the game off three consecutive losses, some may have thought the Eagles had lost some confidence after scoring seven in one, getting shutout in the other two and giving up a combined 124 points in that span.

But a team that had lost to the No. 1 team by just seven points when fully healthy didn’t panic with Smith returning to the quarterback position in the first round following an injury suffered early against Thompson.

The senior quarterback stepped in with the thought of it possibly being his last game in an Oak Mountain uniform not even crossing his mind.

Right out of the gate, he looked like his usual self and not like a player who had been injured and missed three weeks.

Smith quickly gave the Eagles a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.

He ran for the game’s first touchdown with 4:06 left in the opening quarter from 5 yards out, before then adding another touchdown from 3 yards with 11:19 to play in the second quarter.

Following a penalty from the Jets on the PAT, Oak Mountain decided to gamble with an onside kick due to the field position flip.

It paid off, and one play later, Smith hit his third touchdown of the half. This time, it came on a 29-yard pass to Cade George to put the Eagles in front 21-0 with 11:07 to play in the second quarter.

But the No. 5 team in the state hadn’t lost a game this season and wasn’t going to do so without a battle.

James Clemens answered with two crucial touchdowns over the final 7:49 of the half, including a 3-yard run and a 53-yard pass, to make it 21-14 at the break.

With Oak Mountain’s offense starting to hit a slight hiccup, James Clemens came out in the second half with a strong defensive approach.

It kept the Eagles off the board for a while, which allowed the Jets to capitalize offensively.

Giovanni Lopez hit Kobe Johnson for a 44-yard touchdown strike that looked like it might tie the game, but a missed PAT kept the Eagles in front 21-20 with 3:24 left in the third.

Then, the back-and-forth final stretch began.

On the ensuing drive, Smith had his next impact on the game, finding a hole in the defense and beating everybody from there for a 77-yard touchdown run that put Oak Mountain in front 28-20 less than a minute after James Clemens had drawn within one.

But it took a minute exactly for the Jets to respond.

Lopez connected on another big pass play, this time hitting Tyrik Walker for an 83-yard touchdown. After the two-point conversion attempt was run in by running back Dante Snodgrass, the game was tied for the first time since it was scoreless.

Smith, however, had found his rhythm again.

After reeling off another long run of close to 50 yards, he hit George for the second time tonight from 7 yards out to put the Eagles back in front 35-28 with 6:59 left to play.

James Clemens’ offense had also started to get into a flow after a slow start to the game, and the Jets responded.

After just converting a short fourth down play, they scored on a 1-yard touchdown from Snodgrass to even the score with 2:14 to play.

But that put Smith and the dangerous Oak Mountain offense right back on the field.

He quickly went to work, pushing the Eagles down the field, including a big 25-yard pass in the final 10 seconds to set up the manageable field goal try.

Murphy, an athlete that plays in all facets of the game, then trotted onto the field to attempt the game winner, which he booted perfectly to take down the No. 5 team.

Smith finished the game with 21 carries for 246 yards and three touchdowns, while he adde182 yards passing and two touchdowns on 12-of-17 passing.

George finished with 83 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions, while Hammett totaled four receptions for 81 yards, including the big one late.

Carter Lehman led the defense with 5.5 tackles, while Murphy added 4.5 to help the Eagles defensively as well. Mattox Vines totaled 4.5 tackles as well with 1.5 tackles for loss.

Oak Mountain will now take on either Florence or Thompson in the quarterfinals of the playoffs after coming up three points short of the semifinals a season ago.